Hockey World Cup 2018: Unfazed by team's inexperience, coach Harendra Singh says Junior World Cup success will be handy
'They already have a taste of playing in from out 20,000-25,000 home spectators. It is not pressure; it is enjoyment,' Harendra said about youngsters in the team.
Bhubaneshwar: A quick look at India's World Cup squad suggests a team bereft of big names and big match experience. However, dig deeper, and one realises that while the former does hold true, the latter might not be entirely accurate, for as many as seven players from the 18-member squad can rightfully claim to have played a World Cup.
Harmanpreet Singh, Varun Kumar, Sumit, KB Pathak, Mandeep Singh, Nilakanta Sharma, and Simranjeet Singh were all part of the team that lifted the Junior World Cup in Lucknow in 2016, and coach Harendra Singh believes that the experience will come in handy when the team takes the field come 28 November.
The refurbished Kalinga Stadium can seat 15,000 people, and a full house transforms it into a cauldron of pressure and noise. Harendra, who was coach of the junior team that won the World Cup two years back, believes the experience of having played in front of a capacity crowd will stand the youngsters in good stead.
"They already have a taste of playing in from out 20,000-25,000 home spectators. It is not pressure; it is enjoyment. Very few players in the world get an opportunity to play a World Cup in front of their own people. These seven boys have got it twice, and they should enjoy it," the coach said after India's practice session on Monday.
In the absence of regulars SV Sunil, Ramandeep Singh (injury), and Rupinder Pal Singh (dropped), the onus would be on skipper Manpreet Singh and PR Sreejesh to guide the team. While there have been murmurs about the senior-junior balance in the squad, Harendra insisted on the need to focus on starting well.
"So far, in the training and practice, we are looking very positive. The first match is always crucial. Whenever we have started well in a tournament, we have done well," he said.
The fifth-ranked hosts open their campaign against South Africa, placed ten rungs below them, but India would be wary of complacency, especially after the Asian Games debacle. The coach refused to dwell on the past, but conceded that the failure has resulted in course correction.
"That (Asian Games) is past. According to me, you gain experience from failure. We found loopholes in our game during the Asian Games and rectified many of them during the Asian Champions Trophy," he said.
India had entered the continental tournament as favourites to win gold, but following a loss to Malaysia in a penalty shootout, had to settle for bronze. Earlier this year, the team lost another crucial shootout — this time against Australia in the Champions Trophy final. Harendra said the team has prepared well for shootouts, and expects Sreejesh to come good in such situations.
"I expect one of India’s matches to go into shootouts. I’m very confident that Sreejesh will stop two-three shots. The rest, of the five, I expect at least three of the players to score. But in shoot-outs, it is anybody’s game and time is not on your side," he said.
India have been camping in Bhubaneshwar ever since team's return from the Asian Champions Trophy, and Harendra said the time spent on the turf has been sufficient for the boys to acquaint themselves with what Pakistan's assistant coach Rehan Butt termed as a heavy surface.
"It is an advantage to have trained on this pitch because you know the surface in and out. You know how the surface plays in certain areas.
"Anytime when you go into a tournament you have to adjust. I think the India team has got more time on the pitch than the others because we have practised on the surface for three weeks. I don’t think the surface should be an excuse for us," he added.
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